Twenty Years Ago Today: Naval Lovers Sentenced for Stealing Ship Funds

HMS Invincible. Who knew that such a fine, upstanding vessel could harbour such criminality? Twenty years ago today, two petty officers from the HMS Invincible were sentenced for stealing £11,303 in cash from the ship and then deserting their posts for a spending spree in Greece and Spain. Petty Officers Sylvia Panter and Ian Luff had fallen in love while serving together, despite the fact that both of them were married to other people.

The two had bonded after Panter was assigned to the Invincible, her first shipboard posting after nine years of service. She was given only three day's notice of her assignment to the post of ward fund cashier, for which she had no training. Luff, who was old enough to have survived the destruction of the HMS Coventry during the 1982 Falklands War, took her under his wing as her 'sea-daddy' (which is actually a time-honoured tradition within the RN - an older sailor mentoring a younger one is something that even Horatio Nelson benefited from).

But Panter still couldn't cope, and the pair grew closer. While the ship was moored at Corfu, she went to pieces after being denied shore leave for turning up late to duty. Eventually, fearing that she would follow through on her threats of suicide, Luff accompanied her as they fled the ship with the contents of the safe, and headed out into Greece and then Spain. But once they'd spent about £2,000 on clothes, drink and hotels, they realised just how much trouble they were in and came to their senses. They gave themselves up in Barcelona, along with the remainder of the cash - though not before selling their story to The Sun for £10,000.

Panter was sentenced to 18 months in a civilian jail, while Luff received 15 months of the same. Both were dismissed from the Navy and lost their good conduct medals. Luff managed to stay out of the papers after that, but Panter was 'uncovered' as a former criminal in 2006, when various newspapers expressed disgust that she was in a senior NHS job at a trust that just happened to be run by her husband. This is, of course, rather shocking, but it's worth remembering that one of the newspapers uncovering this particular scandal was The Sun, which had happily thrown money at Panter twelve years earlier. It's almost as if there wasn't enough hypocrisy to go around...